Then there’s the Kitchen. Its official name is the nonvolley zone, a seven-foot strip in front of the net on both sides. (An official pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide.) Players are not allowed to step foot in the Kitchen, so when a ball heads there a player might bend forward to return a “dink,” a cunning shot that hops over the net and lands in the opponent’s Kitchen.
Mr. Sariban knows the risks firsthand. A former junior college basketball player, he was in a small professional pickleball tournament in January 2018 — perfect Southern California day, a $200 gift certificate for the winner — when he found himself at the edge of the Kitchen.
“I’m reaching to hit a routine rolling volley, one I’ve hit a million times,” he said. “I hit the ball and I feel my back lock up, and in my head I go, ‘Uh-oh.” Within minutes, he had to lie down on the court. “I could barely walk,” he said, adding, “I sat in the car and my wife had to swing my legs around” and into the passenger well. He had herniated two discs. “I thought I was never going to play a sport ever again in my life,” he said.
Since then Mr. Sariban has become conscientious about stretching, and he teaches players at his clinics to do the same, which includes warming up without a paddle before any hitting starts. “It is amazing to me how no one warms up,” he said. “I’ve taught in a lot of states, and it’s the same thing everywhere. Pickleball players are notorious about not warming up.”
Mr. Sariban and other pickleball experts note that the risk of injury isn’t higher than in other sports, but that the perception of risk is lower. And the risks should not discourage participation, say die-hards like Debbie Landa, a tech entrepreneur in her early 50s in San Francisco. Like many, Ms. Landa has taken up pickleball during the pandemic; she now plays five days a week. Among her mentors, she said, was an 82-year-old woman in Palm Springs “who motivated me everyday.”
Ms. Landa has had various pickleball afflictions — pickleball elbow, sore hips — but those come with the sport, she said. The real pains, she said, are the nasty players who “get too aggressive and angry.”